Does the Bible really say that people will burn in hell forever?
How can that kind of God be loving and just?
Or does the Bible say something else?
The Bible didn't create Christianity.
Christianity (death and resurrection of Jesus) created the Bible.
The Bible came 30-70 years later.
The Bible is the record of what Jesus said and did.
The world was perfect before Adam sinned – no pain, no disease, no death. Then Adam wrecked God's paradise by eating forbidden fruit, and ever since the earth has been under God's curse as punishment for that sin.
Everyone is a descendant from Adam and has inherited Adam's sin and guilt (known as original sin). Every human being of all times and places is born guilty of that sin.
The penalty for Adam's sin is the harshest possible torment, burning in hell forever without being able to die. Everyone will be sent to hell after bodily resurrection and judgment except those who accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, even the people who lived before Jesus or never heard about Jesus.
If one man could thwart God's plan, God cannot be all-wise and all-powerful. It seems like lack of foresight and defective design.
It is certainly not justice to punish people for the offense of another person at another time and place for which they had no part or knowledge.
Burning forever is the worst kind of torture conceivable. It may be loving to offer some people a means of salvation from this torture, but it certainly is not loving to withhold this offer, or knowledge the offer, from most people who have ever lived.
The earth had been billions of years in the making. Then God comes! And starts establishing personal relationships with humans!!
He chose one man – Adam – to make the first move from physical life to spiritual life. Man had never encountered God before, and now a whole new quality and dimension was added to human life.
People outside the Garden of Eden lived and died completely unaware of what was happening inside the Garden. As it is even to this day, for reasons we don't understand, God chooses to reveal himself to some people but not to others, mostly a consequence of historical time and geographic place (see 1.6).
The story of the Garden of Eden – man's first encounter with God – is told in Genesis 2:8 - 3:24.
'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:15-17).
The Garden of Eden is both a time and a place.
According to Bible genealogy (see 1.3.3), and general agreement among Bible scholars, the time was approximately 4000 BC.
The Bible says that the Garden of Eden was at or near the headwaters of four named rivers. Even though the names of two of the rivers have changed and are now impossible to identify precisely, it appears that this garden (special place) was in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization).
In the Eden story, God came to earth in person, for the first time ever, and talked to man, establishing a personal relationship and setting rules. The almighty designer-creator God of the universe coming to man! Almost inconceivable!
The Garden of Eden was a paradise, but not perfect. God said this garden (special place) needed people to work it, presumably because of the normal aging, death and re-birth that was occurring throughout the earth. God placed Adam (already created) into this garden. Satan was already there.
In ancient times – before writing and books – information was transmitted as stories that could be remembered and passed on from generation to generation. Each part of the story was packed with meaning and was explained over and over again by elders to youth, with stern rebuke and correction for even the most trivial deviation. To the ancients, the meaning was the most important part of the story.
See 1.4.1 for major elements of the Garden of Eden story.
A quick reading of the story indicates that Adam's sin was that he ate forbidden fruit, but a careful study shows that eating the fruit was just the outward manifestation of the real sin. God looks through the action, into the heart, to see the motives.
'You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked [God saw their motive] ...' (Genesis 3:4-7)
Adam's sin was that he wanted to be his own god and follow his own rules, no longer subject to God's rules.
The consequences of Adam's sin are discussed at length in the Bible study of Romans 5 (see 1.4.3).
Many Christians believe that the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is a parable rather than actual fact.
Jesus used parables often in his teaching, and people are not troubled by whether or not the event actually happened. Was the Good Samaritan an actual person? The injured man a real person? The words spoken to the innkeeper an exact quotation?
Effective teaching can be accomplished by telling an illustrative story (an allegory) as well by reporting an actual event.
Whether actual event or allegory, the teaching in this story is clear either way. undefined
THE VIEWPOINT ON THIS SITE is that the Garden of Eden was a real place at a real time with real people, for these reasons:
The Eden story is written in the simple way of ancients, not the way we report events today with sophisticated language. Back then, ethereal concepts were often represented symbolically, a type of shorthand:
These symbols have visual impact that aid comprehension and memory retention.
Whether or not the story contains symbolic elements or figurative people, the essential meaning is clear. Satan's temptation resulted in the first deliberate act of defiance to God – 'the trespass' of Romans 5, trying take God's place – and punishment was denial of access to eternal life. (See 1.4.3)
There are many questions about what happened in the Garden of Eden that require discussion too long to include on this page, including:
See 1.4.2 for discussion of these questions and more.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden raises some of the most fundamental and controversial issues of the Christian faith, including age of earth, first human, cause of death, original sin and people burning in hell forever.
These issues – and more – are covered in the first four topics of this site, complete with Thinkers Bible Studies which display all relevant Bible passages bearing on each subject, so you can read and decide for yourself what you believe the Bible teaches.
Most Bible studies elsewhere use the fill-in-the-blanks method to affirm the theology and wording the author intended, to reinforce what most in the group already believe and to dispel conflicting interpretations.
Thinkers Bible Studies here use the Socratic method of asking any and all hard questions, gathering all relevant facts possible, and searching for answers that are intellectually honest and align with real life experience.
Some conclusions here may be upsetting to some traditional Christians who have been taught certain church doctrines without question from childhood.
This site is not affiliated with any religious groups and has no statement of faith to squeeze people into. Each reader here is simply encouraged to study – really study – what the Bible says and to able to converse intelligently and confidently about spiritual matters with other people.
The story of Adam and Eve raises an important theological question: Does God ever hold a person guilty for the sins of another?
How we answer that question here sets the pattern for how we understand sin and eternal life in all parts the Bible.
A majority of Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have been taught that the guilt for Adam's sin has been placed on everyone ... that everyone is born with this 'original sin' ... and that, without salvation through Jesus Christ, everyone will burn in hell forever because of Adam's sin.
This is also known as 'inherited sin' or 'transmitted sin.'
None of these terms, or anything similar, appear anywhere in the Bible.
THE INTERPRETATION ON THIS SITE regarding sin is that everyone has a sin nature but NOT original sin ... that we are NOT guilty for Adam's sin ... that we are guilty only for our own sins. See 1.4.3 to see why this interpretation is the clear conclusion from a deep Bible study.
Jesus did not teach that everyone bears the guilt of Adam's sin and is destined to hell because of it. In fact, there is no record in the Bible of Jesus ever even mentioning Adam's name.
Jesus' teaching was all about our own choices and our own sin. He never said we get sin or guilt from another person. The doctrine of original sin didn't come from Jesus but from theologians hundreds of years after Jesus' death and resurrection.
God claims to be just and loving,
If Adam's guilt is placed on everyone (original sin),
Most people will be sent to hell as punishment for something they knew nothing about,
Over 100 billion people have lived on earth so far (table above),
The great majority of people have never had an opportunity to hear clearly about God's offer of salvation through Jesus Christ,
Torturing 100 billion people forever for a wrong they never committed, and knew nothing about, would be the most monstrous injustice and lack of love that anyone can image,
GOD IS NOT JUST AND LOVING, BUT A CRUEL MONSTER.
Many people over-reach with these additional 'proof-texts' to support the concept of original sin:
The concept of original sin is built primarily on a few verses written by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome.
What Bible says, not tradition ...
Here are some problems with the common interpretation:
God claims to be all-good,
If, at time of Garden of Eden, God holds all people outside the Garden guilty for a sin Adam committed inside the Garden,
If God condemns them to eternal hell for something they knew nothing about,
God had not appeared to them or given them any means of salvation,
God is NOT GOOD, and is a liar,
NOTHING THAT GOD SAYS IS TRUSTWORTHY.
There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning in the world long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world 'through' Adam' (not 'because' of Adam;' see 1.4.3 for study of Romans 5). Apparently there has always been death on earth.
Since there was death before sin, sin cannot be the cause of death.
See 1.3 (People before Adam) to show that there was death on earth before Adam sinned.
An often quoted phrase in Romans 5:12 ('and death through sin'), when lifted out of context, seems to say that sin came first, but see 1.4.3 Bible study of Romans 5 for explanation.
Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke often about 'eternal life.' Church people today often use another term, 'spiritual death,' to connote the opposite of eternal life, a term that communicates well to insiders (traditional Christians) but is an oxymoron to everyone else.
Traditional Christians use 'spiritual death' to mean burning in hell forever. They are saying that, after bodily resurrection and judgment, death doesn't really mean death but really means living forever, in torture, unable to die. And how can one become spiritually dead if one was never spiritually alive? The language is contrary both to normal usage and to the character of God.
The term and concept 'spiritual death' is an oxymoron contrived and not found in the Bible. There is no death (in spiritual realm) if there was never any life.
God said to Adam: 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17)
How we interpret 'die' in the story of Adam and Eve sets the pattern for how we interpret death and eternal life in other parts of the Bible.
THE INTERPRETATION ON THIS SITE is that 'die' means simply what it says: final end of existence (after physical death, resurrection, judgment and punishment). No body. No consciousness. Nothing.
The only exception to final death is eternal life, offered through Jesus.
People who don't choose eternal life will die in hell. Not live forever in hell. But die in hell. Duration and severity depending upon each person's sin and judgment. Then end of existence. Period.
This is contrary to what most traditional Christians have been taught, but it becomes a clear conclusion from careful Bible study. See 3.5.1 for a Bible study showing every passage of scripture that speaks directly about future death and hell.
Over the centuries, theologians have developed an exhaustive vocabularly of terms and concepts that has become almost unintelligible for most ordinary people to understand. Theological language often sounds like gobbledygook to doubters ... vague and ethereal ... usually too couched and complex than necessary. Conversation is often like two ships passing in the night.
'Spiritual death,' discussed above, is an example of confusing double-talk.
We should make every effort speak to doubters with clear and direct language, the way ordinary people talk, using words with generally accepted meanings.
When someone says that everyone inherits at birth the guilt of Adam's sin, that triggers questions about our punishment for his sin.
Most traditional Christians say that we will burn in hell forever if we die without having accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.
Even people who never heard of Jesus? Burn forever?
Even though Christianity is documented by the Bible (New Testament)‚ and these are enormously important questions, most traditional Christians have never done a Bible study to get answers for themselves.